6 Things I Learned from Living Alone in a Cabin in the Woods for Two Years (And Why I’ll Never Do It Again)

Yes, a picture of the actual cabin.

I got my associate’s degree from a local community college, which meant that I only had to do two and a half years at university to complete my bachelor’s degree. It didn’t sound so bad, and I got into my dream school, so I was pretty excited to go.

Fortunately, my grandparent’s second residence—a log cabin in the woods—was located just shy of an hour south of my dream campus in University Park, Pennsylvania. Being the recluse that I am, I figured I could live there and completely avoid the student population while I did my schoolwork.

It was a great idea in theory. Here’s how it played out and why I’ll never do it again.

1. You Do Actually Need People

I will never forget that feeling when my parents drove away and left me at the cabin for the first time. Yes, I was older than the typical-aged college student. But my love for my parents was no less, and as I watched them drive away, I cried.

I was prepared to not have friends. I’d never been social, didn’t feel the need to be, and I wasn’t counting on making any friends. My boyfriend was going to university in Virginia, about two and a half hours away. My best friend at the time, Stephanie, was going to university in Maryland. I was fully prepared and equipped with my smartphone to stay in touch with them during my time there.

My brother pulling me on a sled in the snow in PA. I am having the time of my life, as you can see.

Turns out, it wasn’t enough. I went days on end without seeing anybody. It’s a feeling I wasn’t used to and one I learned not to like. I felt very isolated despite being on a campus with 40,000 people and missed simple face-to-face interactions with people. I made two friends during my time at Penn State (hey, Dom and Chris!) and their kindness and friendship made me realize just how much people matter in life.

2. You Don’t Actually Want to Build a Log Cabin

I can’t tell you how much I hear people nostalgically talk about cabins. They vacation in cabins. They honeymoon in cabins. They party in cabins. They talk about building cabins because they’re cheap.

I stop these people every time. I’m like, “NO! You do not want to do that!”

Vacationing in a cabin? Fine. Honeymooning in a cabin? Fine. Partying in a cabin? Whatever floats your boat. But for real and serious, you DO NOT want to build a log cabin.

Although this is a gorgeous picture of the Juniata River, which happens to be right in the backyard at the cabin.

The log you see on the inside is the same log that you see on the outside. They do not hold heat well. The animals destroy them. They are a bitch to maintain. You will regret this decision and in a relatively short amount of time, the cabin will not be worth the money that you put in to maintain it.

Trust me, I’ve seen all this firsthand. Go visit a cabin. Do not invest in one. It is not an investment and it’s definitely not comfortable to live in year-round. You can thank me later.

(Update: I was recently informed by a reader that it was presumptuous of me to say that no one would want to live in and/or build a log cabin. This is presumptuous of me, and I apologize. I assure you my advice was well-intentioned when writing this article. As an update, I’ll say: GO BUILD THE CABIN IF YOU WANT TO! YOU HAVE FREE WILL, GIRL!)

3. The Winters Are Cold in Pennsylvania

I’ve been going to that cabin since I was three years old. I KNOW the winters are cold in Pennsylvania. But here’s what I learned from living in that cabin for two winters: the winters are cold in Pennsylvania.

Now, before everyone freaks out and tells me what I wimp I am, yes, I have been to Canada, and no, I do not handle the cold well. I have low blood pressure and am borderline anemic, so I freeze in anything that’s below 70 degrees basically.

I froze my ass off there for two years. My social anxiety kept me from taking any sort of public transportation while on campus, and since I was a commuter, I needed to walk from the school parking lot to my classes every day. So I walked my ass right past the bus station where all the normal commuters got picked up and hoofed it in my Timberland boots 40 minutes to and from class every day.

A heart I drew in the snow for my boyfriend because I was bored.

I’ll never forget the day it was 5 degrees outside and I stole a pair of mittens out of the women’s bathroom and grabbed a sweater out of the lost and found because I was so cold (ok, I’m lying, I didn’t do those things because I was cold, I did those things because I was weird and I wanted to; they also didn’t happen on the same day, which somehow makes it even weirder).

Did I mention Penn State is notorious for not canceling classes because of snow? Classes were not canceled once during my two years there. We had two 2-hour delays and it seemed I was lucky to get even that. I missed a week of classes one winter because I couldn’t get out of my driveway, let alone up the mountain I drove every day to get to campus.

The freezing cold was not fun and I was miserable and I hated it. I’d get home at night when it was cold and dark and soak in the hot tub for a long time while I shuddered at the thought of going outside again.

4. Animals Like Log Cabins

Log cabins are the epitome of nature. The wood that’s there, the fact that no one lives there year round, its location in the middle of the woods: all these features made it irresistible to animals.

Deer, foxes, squirrels, turkeys, mice, flying squirrels, and rabbits were some of the animals I saw there. The flying squirrels and mice had taken up residence with me in the cabin. I rescued one from the coat closet one evening when I was doing my homework at the dining room table and heard it rummaging around in there. I was scared to death.

A picture of that poor flying squirrel. Don’t worry, I got it off the glue trap safely and released it. I HATE glue traps; my grandparents put them out and I throw them away every time I go up there.

The mice liked to try and eat my food and somehow found their way into my panty drawer (yes, you read that right: panty not pantry) and the silverware drawer. Two of the worst places to find evidence of mice, let me tell you. I washed all that stuff more times than I care to count.

I learned that there’s essentially no separation of nature. You are one with the animals, the forest, the cabin. A good thing? Yes. Sometimes. When you don’t own that building.

5. I Will Never Live in a Log Cabin

Two years and I was DONE with that shit. Don’t get me wrong—I am so, so grateful to my grandparents for letting me stay there. The cabin was beautiful and they maintained it well and I was alone, mostly secure, and able to have my bunnies with me. I could canoe whenever I wanted and got to bike and run in beautiful spots.

A picture of the cabin from the backyard.

But I will never live in a log cabin again.

Summers are gorgeous. Winters are brutal. I’m fine to visit but I will not live there. Thanks, but no thanks. I want a real house next time.

6. I am Actually Scared as Shit

Like I said, I thought I was prepared for the loneliness and isolation I would experience. Turns out, talking to Ian and my parents and my best friend Stephanie every day wasn’t enough. My four adorable, amazing rabbits weren’t even enough.

I still slept with a shotgun next to me.

I still slept with a six-inch knife under my pillow.

I still slept with my cell phone beside my ear just in case someone broke in.

Did I mention the can of wasp spray on my nightstand? Shit sprays 20 feet and your attacker is blinded until they get to a hospital.

Or the cabinet underneath the laundry room sink that I cleared out? Yeah, I fit perfectly in there. I figured if someone broke in I would hide in there while calling the police. No one would look for me in a cabinet!

I spent nights before I fell asleep going over escape routes in my head. What would I do if someone broke in the basement, what would I do if someone broke in the main level, what would I do if a car came in the driveway, what would I do if they were going to hurt my bunnies?

Me and the bunnies at the cabin.

I was scared as shit basically every single night while I was there except for the nights that Ian or my parents or Stephanie were visiting, which wasn’t often. I realized that I’m actually terrified and was completely unprepared for being alone after growing up in a house with four other people and numerous guns. Terrified.

For all of these reasons, although I am grateful for my time in the cabin, I will not live in a cabin again, definitely not alone, and definitely not in central Pennsylvania in the dead of winter. Was my English degree worth it? You tell me.

What Have I Accomplished in My Year After Graduating College?

The year after graduating college can be a daunting one (ok, seriously, I hate it when people use the word daunting, but it seemed appropriate here). But I’m here to tell you why mine has been the most liberating ever!

accomplishment

Today has been a year since I graduated from Penn State. It seems nuts to me that it’s been a year, but at the same time, so much has happened.

So what have I accomplished in my year after graduating college?

Focused More on My Personal Growth Than My Professional

When I graduated, I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.

I started my B.A when I was 18, and graduated when I was 23. I had spent years trying to get my degree, and now it was over.

What should I do?

I used the year after graduating college to focus much more on my personal self than on my professional one. After all, I’d finished my degree—now it was time to focus on me and my inner goddess.

Got a Full-Time Job—But Quit

So I had a full-time job before I even got my diploma in the mail.

After applying to job after job after job both right before and after I left Penn State, and going on only two interviews, I landed a job at a security firm as a tech writer close to DC. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to get a job but I did, and I was ecstatic to start.

I thought I wanted to do tech writing—turns out, it’s not really my cup of tea. I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I quit that job after only a few days because it went so badly.

I wasn’t happy, and happiness is a priority in my life, especially the year after graduating college.

Got a Part-Time Job

After I quit my first job, I felt lost and confused as to what I wanted.

I was still applying the year after graduating college but had less certainty and confidence as to what I wanted. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but if I couldn’t do tech writing, how could I find a legit writing job?

I applied to the women’s homeless shelter in DC and got the job. It was part-time, but exactly what I needed to figure out what I wanted to do while still making an income the year after graduating college.

Figured Out What I Truly Want To Do

I love my work in DC. It’s been so empowering and it has been a fabulous opportunity to grow and figure out what I want.

I learned that I want to help people and not just homeless people. I wanted to write, too. I just needed to confidence to actually figure out how to start my writing professionally.

Started My Own Business

So walaah! I started my own freelance writing business almost a year after graduating college. It’s going great and I love it, and it feels awesome to get paid doing what I love to do—writing!

Learned Where I Want to Live

Ian was interning in Asheville, North Carolina during the year after graduating college. I drove down there a couple times that summer and spent several weeks with him while I was unemployed (those weeks were some of the most healing of my life, it felt like).

I really loved Asheville and North Carolina. I hope to move there!

Stopped Being so Afraid of Life

When I graduated, I was terrified of so many things. I think more than all these things though, I was afraid of my ability to actually do something worthwhile that people would pay me for.

What would my life mean if I couldn’t do what I loved?

I was so scared of actually living my life and going for my dreams. After this past year after graduating college, I’m still a little scared, but not half as much as I was. And I gained more confidence, too.

Realized How My Misdiagnosis Has Impacted My Life

That crazy illness that I was diagnosed with almost 8 years ago is not the illness I have.

I do not have any illness; my body merely has an autoimmune response to a protein named gluten. I realized that my illness has both made me terrified and less confident.

I’m not sick, and I don’t have to be sick. I choose what’s best for my body. I live the way I want to live. Going through my illness has made me less likely to spend time on things that I don’t want to spend time on. I cherish my time now and what I do with it.

Our lives are so short, so do what makes you happy!

So my year after graduating college didn’t quite go like I thought—but it was a magical one and I’ve come so far personally and professionally!